Ed Stafford’s bid to be the first to walk the Amazon is in danger

October 26, 2009

From the Daily Mail, 26 October 2009 (story by Paul Sims).

He has been accused of murder, thrown into a concrete cell for 48 hours, chased by tribes armed with bows and arrows and fallen out with his walking partner over an iPod.

For former Army captain and adventurer Ed Stafford the last 565 days of his epic bid to become the first man to walk the entire length of the Amazon River have been far from easy.

And it seems they are destined to get a lot harder for, more than halfway into his 4,000 mile trek, the 33 year old is now relying on handouts after his sponsors pulled out due to the recession.

If that wasn't bad enough his GPS system no longer works and his medical insurance has lapsed. Unable to give his precise location and without any cover there can be no rescue effort.

His expedition is rapidly becoming a survival mission. And with no money for food he and his Peruvian guide are now living off the fish they catch and the goodwill of local tribes.

Legendary adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is among those who have offered him support, but even he has admitted that the chances of him finishing the expedition now hang in the balance.

‘We are 90km from the next community that we know exists and we have no food, no food whatsoever, full stop,' said Mr Stafford.

‘My Global Positioning System doesn't work any more and the map I have was designed for pilots.

‘Our biggest worry, of course, is food.

‘If all goes well we have our daily ration of farine, a local carbohydrate, and we catch fish – mostly piranhas – which we put in a soup or we smoke overnight if we want to make a sort of piranha jerky.

‘But many of the rivers are now dry. Even finding rivers big enough to fish in is not easy and we often have no protein at all. Sometimes we eat really well. But when there's nothing life is a bit more grim.

‘Some days we've had to decide whether to fish in the biggest river we have seen for days, eat well that night and leave in the morning or head down river hoping to find a community where we can eat real things, like chicken.

‘If, however, we don't come across a community we have less time to fish and less to eat.'

His funding problems began five months ago when his main sponsors – recruitment firm JBS Associates – were forced to pull out.

Until then they had paid him £1,000 a month. Now he has nothing to rely upon at all – except the fish he and his guide catch, the kindness of local tribes and communities and donations from back home.

His mother is even considering selling the family's £450,000 home in Leicestershire in a bid to keep his expedition going. There has also been support from high-profile figures, including Sir Ranulph.

In a letter to Mr Stafford he wrote: ‘I think things will get increasingly difficult for you. Over forty years I must of been involved with over thirty big journeys, at least half of which have failed.

‘It is always a matter for the traveller to decide in his or her own head when to turn back and when to continue.

‘Sometimes to continue is plain daft and irresponsible. At other times there is a chance that pushing on over a particular obstacle or series of obstacles may make things look a whole lot better in which case its well worth fighting off ‘weak thoughts' which occur when the morale is down.

‘Only you can be your own final arbiter. Whatever you may decide over the weeks or months ahead, know that you have already done fantastically well.'

Mr Stafford, from Hallaton, near Market Harborough, began his epic adventure in April last year.

He started at the source of the river in Nevado Mismi, Peru, with his walking partner Luke Collyer, 37, an outdoor activities instructor.

But after just 90 days together an apparent row over an MP3 Player saw the two go their separate ways. Mr Collyer headed back to the UK and Mr Stafford continued the trek with only his guide as company.

Mr Stafford, who is now in Brazil, has since battled through tropical storms, been bitten by scorpions, had his tent eaten by ants, and been held on suspicion of murder.

He was also held as a prisoner for failing to have the right permit and with food now a real issue he has lost two stones in weight in as many months.

If that wasn't bad enough his GPS system no longer works and his medical insurance has lapsed. ‘We've often had to redraw the rivers on the map in pencil because it's so inaccurate,' he added. ‘It's been a navigational joke. If it wasn't life threatening it would be hilarious.

‘We carry an emergency position indicating rescue beacon but, as our medical insurance has lapsed due to lack of funds, if we pulled the plug nothing would happen.

‘No evacuation would be initiated – we are on our own. It's a long time to stay positive but we are taking one day at a time. Just ten more months to push.'

Last night, his spokeswoman Vikki Rimmer said his chances of completing the trip were now in jeopardy because of the lack of funding.

‘He's so determined,' she said. ‘His reality is different to ours. He's been walking this day after day so in his own mind there's no way he will give up.

‘His sponsors were very supportive but due to the credit crunch were unable to continue paying him a monthly allowance so he's had no money for the last five months.'

Mr Stafford hopes his trek will raise awareness of climate change and raise funds for a number of medical and conservation charities, including cancer research.

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